As the national political conventions in Tampa and Charlotte approach, we're starting to see signs of an election year tradition: News stories about sex and the delegates—a fairly simple and always sensational tale, but one that should maybe stop surprising us. We see it most recently in Thursday's New York Times article about Tampa strip clubs getting ready for a boon in business. As The Times' Lizette Alvarez writes:
As Tampa gears up for the Republican National Convention, the biggest party it has ever held, the city and its businesses are primping and polishing for the August arrival of tens of thousands of visitors. Like it or not — mostly not, for city officials — Tampa’s well-known strip clubs have joined the welcome wagon.
What a sexy story! But recent history (or, merely recent coverage in the news) suggests this isn't a phenomenon specific to Tampa, though it's tempting to think so if you just went to see the Tampa-based male stripper movie Magic Mike. Herein a brief, recent history of sex at the conventions:
In 2008, the Democratic Convention took place in Denver. The Rocky Mountain News reported that prostitutes, both male and female, as well as gentleman's clubs were prepping for an influx of visitors. This isn't terribly surprising since conventions bring tens of thousands of visitors so local businesses are going to see upticks, but the evidence is mostly anecdotal, an interview with a club owner or a madame, with (no pun intended) few hard numbers. Anecdotal evidence can work both ways though, and following up on the claim post-convention, The Denver Post found a few people who "said business is slower this week than normal because there is a big lull in customers in the evenings during the political speeches." At the time, the city was gearing up for an electronics show post-convention, and as the Post noted, techies, are apparently more reliable patrons.
In 2004, the Republican National Convention took place in New York, so you know the story got some play. "With thousands of Republicans set to invade the city this summer," The New York Daily News reported, "high-priced escorts and strippers are preparing for one grand old party." It being New York, these stories were particularly colorful. One group "did a bar crawl of delegate hangouts, offering to match up Republicans with hot Democratic ladies in exchange for a vote against Mr. Bush," according to The National Post. (There was even talk of cross-dressing lessons.) But again, the evidence was mixed. Prostitutes, in particular, reported that they might actually lay low because of increased security and an unfamiliar out-of-town clientele, according to Newsday's Robert Polner on August 20, 2004. (via Nexis) .
That same year, the Democrats convened in Boston. The Boston Herald's Christopher Cox reported on July 25, 2004 (via Nexis) that on the eve of the convention, "The groundwork has been laid: extra ads, more supervixen staff, full humidors, limos on call," once again mostly citing business owners who were gearing up for the influx.
In 2000, the Republicans headed to Philadelphia, where businesses were only too happy to cater to them according to The Associated Press. "A burlesque bar-turned-dance club will get into the spirit with a 4-foot-8 Abraham Lincoln impersonator, pundits in bikinis and a tattooist creating patriotic body art."
This list of stories pegged to conventions could go on, and our point isn't to suggest that delegates never patronize strip clubs or or engage in other shenanigans, but that rarely is there evidence that they do so more or less than in previous years or compared to rival parties. We see these stories every year because the premise is entertaining: Who doesn't want to read about sex and politics? And, at least anecdotally, it's easy to prove. Any city expecting tens of thousands of visitors will have plenty of business owners of all stripes who are happy to tell a reporter about their plans to cater to the guests. Further, each story probably holds specific appeal to partisans on one side or the other since the conventions, by their very nature, implicate only one party. Then again, these stories also allow for some strange bedfellows: Look at Daily Kos's and Glenn Beck's The Blaze takes on the Republicans in Tampa.